Learning how to learn

How I approach learning when public education failed me.

Hey there. This is my perspective on entrepreneurship, learning, and life.

Thank you so much for reading. ✌️

Quote of the week:
"Marty, the future isn't written. It can be changed. You know that. Anyone can make their future whatever they want it to be." — Doc Emmett Brown


Learning how to learn

Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.
— Jim Rohn

Public education never taught me how to learn.

I had become disillusioned with public education for as long as I can remember. Before my junior year of high school, I couldn’t care less about it. I had deplorable learning habits and grades that matched. My friends and I were anarchist with our homework. Tim would jam his homework into his bag without any regard for storage and make a spectacle of uncrinkling to turn them in.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to cram in as much of my homework on the bus the morning it was due. I would scribble furiously under the dim illumination of the streetlights we passed. And why would I seek any alternative?

School excels at incentivizing useless memorization. Not once was I ever instructed on why it was important to learn about Mitochondria, or how to even ‘learn’ at all!

At one point, I had the relationship between my level of effort and my grades entirely figured out. By cramming my homework and studying in the 30-45 minutes on the bus on the way to school, I could play Halo 3 into the wee hours of the night.

My C’s didn’t feel so bad because there wasn’t much in the way of reward for the alternative. My friends and I would chant, “C’s get degrees!”

Recently, my Dad read my writing and sent over a really nice note.

I vividly remember these conversations that we would have each time I had to cough up my report card in front of my parents. They weren’t bad, but none of us were proud.

I got better with time. I eventually traded Halo 3 for parties at Shelby’s. But even then, I started taking my studies seriously. As I progressed, the reward never quite felt like it fit the output. There was still this bug in my ear - “what’s this worth, anyway?”

Thankfully, I never let this ring too loud. I was able to turn my education around and ultimately netted a scholarship that paid for half of my education at a private university. I also had an array of credits from advanced-placement tests that saved me thousands of dollars in classes.

And now, the once-C-student takes learning as serious as anything. It’s because of learning that I’ve evolved my writing, enabled proper knowledge management, increased my income by nearly 10-20% YoY, and had the opportunity to build incredible things.

School encouraged my peers and I to do the bare minimum to get a degree. And so now, I don’t have those 30-45 minutes on the bus before school. Tim can’t reasonably sustain jamming papers into a backpack. We have high aspirations for ourselves and can no longer afford to follow the cheap framework that got us by for so long.

I’m still evolving my ability to learn, but there are a few core pillars to my learning process that I thought might be worth sharing.

Peer-to-peer education

I’m convinced that the best way to learn is through peer-to-peer education. For me, this resembles community & mentorship.

I’ve joined any number of online communities, but I’m obviously most active in my own. Logan, Ryan, and myself largely created Writer’s Bloc out of our own need to connect and learn from other writers. It’s through this engine that I’m able to host and learn from amazing guests like Salman, Shelby Smith, Robbie Crabtree, David W. Riggs, and so many more.

Above that, I’ve been (and continue to be) a part of multiple mastermind groups. These mastermind groups are time-intensive to be an active participant, but provide me an opportunity to talk through ideas and learn from experiments of my peers. In the past, I was in a newsletter mastermind group. Currently, I’m in a few smaller, looser groups, built around accountability.

But you don’t need to fully commit to a community to learn from those around you. You could look to join Facebook groups around a subject of interest, start having Zoom calls with people that inspire you (and ask good questions).

Last month, I engaged with a writing coach. Unlike a certification, it will be harder for me to quantify whether or not it was worth it after I’ve expired my sessions. But writing is something that I devote much of my life doing and thinking about, so why would I not want to get better? (spoiler alert: it has been amazing.)

When I felt stunted in my career a few years ago, I started reaching out to random business professionals on LinkedIn and asking them to meet over coffee.

I’ve learned so much from my peers and will continue to do so. Thank you all.

Online resources

Organizations will often pay for an employee to earn certifications or attend virtual conferences. Illustratively, I’m certifying as a product owner later this week. These are all valuable ways for us to become more employable and increase our earnable income, whilst applying new skills to the job at hand.

And this all sounds fine and dandy - but who will pay for us to learn outside of our career? When an ROI isn’t abundantly clear, we might default to wasting time instead. Reading in itself will not increase our earnable income. There isn’t a report-card for a job well done in self education. And I still feel immeasurable guilt spending hundreds — if not thousands — to improve my skills.

My friend Alexander Hugh Sam is someone that has always inspired me in this arena. He voraciously approaches learning in all arenas: design, coding, writing, and more. He seemingly doesn’t spare expense with courses and opportunities to learn because it has become a core part of his life.

How often do we take for granted that a $9 course on Udemy can completely change the course of our career? How often might we pass on a $1,500 course that will help us organize our ideas and expand our creative output?

Be thoughtful, yet relentless in which resources you devote your time to.

Daily habits

I’ve mentioned this in a past issue, but I’m a big advocate for Futureland and the daily habit formation that the platform encourages. Futureland bolsters a feature called ‘Daily’ that empowers you to stick to journals you care about most. According to one of the founders, Vin, it helps see through creative projects, learn new skills and create new habits.

I’ve been teaching myself guitar by practicing every single day for at least 30 minutes. I’ve struggled in the past to sustain new habits and skills because I couldn’t notice improvement as time went on. This time, I use my notebook to log the chords, how I’m feeling, notes that I learn, etc.

Practiced for 35 minutes (total is 238 mins / ~4 hours)
Today was the first day that felt -really- good. I'm not really muting other strings as often, and when I am, I'm able to quickly adjust the behavior.

I compared it to golf when I was talking to my brother. Learning guitar feels so mechanical. I fix one thing, and mess up another.

I spent some time on the A major and the E major chords. I also got into some music theory / reading music, and started following along to a Youtube video where he is playing the intro to "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield.

The next few sessions will be spend on mastering the A major, e Major, and the D major. Once I am feeling good about those, I will work on switching effortlessly between. From there, I will work on following beats.

I’ve only been doing it for 6 days now, but I already have around 238 minutes (~4 hours) logged practicing and I feel myself improving.

It’s a weird thing, how inconsequential one might view 30 minutes. Perhaps you lay in bed and doom-scroll longer, maybe you continue binge-watching Schitt’s Creek, or maybe you get caught up texting someone all afternoon.

But 30-40 minutes, each day, has me feeling comfortable with guitar after just a week. I’m no John Lennon, but I’m feeling more and more comfortable each passing day. Not only that, I look back on days of notes and feel a sense of satisfaction with myself.

If I quit now, I will soon be back to where I started. And when I started I was desperately wishing to be where I am now. — Anonymous

How do you learn best?

And so ultimately, I suggest you find what works best for you. Each and every day we’re posed with a decision: make ourselves the best we can possibly be or slip into a routine of mediocrity.

For me, I’ve learned best by connecting with my peers, making daily habits, and navigating streams of online resources. You might prefer a classroom setting or some other alternative. The only real thing that matters is that you’re learning and enjoying yourself.

One of the best gifts about being human is our ability to learn new skills, challenge ourselves, and experience everything the world has to offer.

If public education failed you as well, what are you going to do about it?


Washed Up Emo Radio

I recently discovered Washed Up Emo Radio and it has been one of my favorite discoveries of the year. I actually love the radio experience. It’s an enjoyable experience to unwind and have commentary between tracks. There is a certain amount of magic lost midst the procedurally generated playlists that Spotify recommends to me, and this has since filled that gaping hole.

Spotify has an awesome new feature where curators can effectively do just that. In addition, using Anchor.FM, people can call in and leave requests for future episodes.

I do find it pretty ironic that we’ve now gone full circle from the radio to on-demand, back to the radio. But check out the radio station, it’s really impressive.

Wishing you and yours the absolute best,

Cullin